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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Small Town Dreams

Truth be told, I really am a small town girl. My Grandmother came from a tiny village somewhere in Poland, my mother was born in Esterhazy Saskatchewan and although my birthplace (Winnipeg, Manitoba) boasts a population of 600,000 it still would be considered by many as a relative village of sorts. In fact, my mother was born in Melville, Saskatchewan because when my grandmother went into labour, there nearest hospital was 100 kilometres away and so Melville was where she came into the world. I tell this story with nostalgia and pride at times and I venture into this small town world of thinking because here I sit on a snowy night in December in Trail, British Columbia, population 7000.

There is really not much to say about Trail. It is a sweet little town in the Kootenay (pronounced /ˈkuːtni/ KOOT-nee) mountain region of the Rockies, which according to Wikepidia and a sign in my hotel lobby comprises the southeastern portion of British Columbia. It takes its name from the Kootenay River, which in turn was named for the Ktunaxa (or Kootenai or Kutenai) First Nation first encountered by explorer David Thompson.

There is not a great deal to do in Trail as I have learned over the last 72 hours. From a sporting perspective, there is a great ski hill, several cross-country ski trails, and an aquatic centre. I have a cross country skiing lesson tomorrow with a man called Eric who was born and raised in these very mountains. It should prove to be a highlight of my holiday season. Entertainment-wise I have one movie theatre to chose from as so my movie choice is automatically made for me. There is a Wallmart and a Zellers should I chose to shop and finally and most severely, the nearest Starbuck's is 45 kilometres away.

I have met a dozen people who do not own televisions and an equal number who do not drink coffee. It has been, overall, an adventure. Needless to say, I am out of my element. So I could not help but wonder if small town folks have a lower mortality rate? Without all the stress and the shoe departments and caffeine highs would these folks in Trail be on to something?

Unfortunately, as I have found out.... Trail is not only lacking for television and good coffee...
According to Health Canada (the stats are from 1998- I love a good bureaucrat) 31% of this country lives in rural communities where the average distance to a family doctor is 25km away and the average distance to a specialist is over 60km away. I myself am here for the next 10 days on call in the Intensive Care unit because there is such a lack of medical care. Overall 200 people die every year in rural Canada from farming related accidents and large majority of the rural Canadian population is over the age of 60.

Yes I know I sound bitter and perhaps a bit outraged. I find myself raging against the machine for what we have done to ignore this country's "little people". And now it pisses me off that my grandmother had to drive 100 km to the next town holding it in because they did not have a local health care facility! No longer will I tell the story of my mother's birth with the same charm and nostalgia!

Since it's inception, I have tried not to use the Girlfriend's Guide to Health (GGTH) as political "soapbox". I wanted this sight to inform and entertain and to be a beacon of internet positivity in a sea of negative freaks and anger balls. I do apologize and I will try before Boxing Day (the holiest of holey days) not to be so negative but I will blame it on the fact that I have not had a decent coffee since last Thursday. I have gotten so desperate that I begged one of the ambulance attendants who lives in a neighbouring town to stop by the only Starbuck's for miles on her way into work today and pick me up a Venti mild just so I could face the dawn....

I know it is the holiday season and as the GGTH winds down for the year I find myself a bit nostalgic for the days when life was simpler. Yes, there are parts of this town where there is no cell reception. Yes, there are only two grocery stores and one dry cleaner. Yes, there is really only one hotel and it is 2 stars. But despite all of this and my cable and caffeine withdrawal... there is an uncomplicated kindness about this little rural place that is making me smile.... Perhaps it is because I have spent the last three days watching the entire first and second season of Friday Night Lights and I am bathing in a warm glow of small town wonders. Perhaps it is because it cost 5 cents to park for 15 minutes in downtown Trail and the metre takes nickles. Or, perhaps it is because the unit clerk in the Emergency Room thinks I am a superhero because I have real PRADA snow boots.

What I have found here that you don't see in the big cities can be summed up in the following story...
A man walked into the Emergency Room at the Trail hospital last night wearing only a pair of socks and holding his white fluffy Lhassa Apso (yes it was his actual dog and not a euphemism for his penis) on a leash. He was a schizophrenic from a neighbouring town who had been living up the mountain in his truck and had been off his medication for some time. It was 2 degrees celcius outside and he had taken his dog for a walk wearing nothing but sport socks and a smile. The nurses persuaded the man to stay the night and got him and his dog something to eat. He was given a hot shower, and a bed to sleep in and even though the hospital has a "no pets policy", the little fluffy ragga muffin slept with the man in the emergency room all night long. This morning, the Psychiatrist was consulted and the man was admitted to the Psych ward. His dog was allowed with him. The entire staff of the Emergency room took up a collection and sent someone out on their coffee break to buy dog food, chew toys, a water dish, pet shampoo and a flea collar.

After rounding on my patients in the ICU and admitting a woman with heart failure, I was given the honour of giving "Jake", the Lhaso Apso a bath. Instead of a Sunday afternoon filled with big city brunches and big city dreams, I spent a few hours in a Psychiatry Ward in a rural hospital in the middle of the mountains giving a white fluffy dog a much needed bath under the watchful eye of his owner. Both dog and owner were equally appreciative. I placed the community flea collar around the dog's neck and knew that this moment truly was one of the highlights of my career.

So despite the disparity between big city shoes and little town hospitals, tonight I proudly proclaim myself a rural kind of girl. For here is where I can not find a latte for love or money, but there is enough good will to get me through the longest of days.


  1. ..there is something special about rural communities - It's the ability of the community to unselfishly help one another even if the indiviual is the 'mountain man with the white dog'.

  2. I'm sitting here on a rainy Vancouver day (a very rare mid-week day off), reading this post 2.5 years after it was written....I find myself with eyes swelling with tears.....I am so touched by the selfless actions mentioned in your post. It exemplifies what it means to have an open heart, true raw humanity and goodwill.
    I applaud you Dr. Ali Zentner....the world would be a better place with more people like you in it. It's comforting that there are people like you out there in the medical community.
    Nicely done!!